A heartfelt evocation of the importance of place and family.

MARY'S WILD WINTER FEAST

A child disgruntled by a drizzly winter day is cheered up by a trip to the pantry.

“Bumping down the stairs [feels] nothing like sledding,” which has Mary out of sorts: The rain in Juneau has melted all the snow. But when she complains to her father about their damp climate, he defends their “homeland” by giving the little girl a tour of their pantry, chock-a-block with the foods they hunted or harvested around Juneau. There’s salmon, of course, both canned and smoked, and deer, along with dried seaweed and blueberries. Each of the foodstuffs comes with a story about how it was obtained, celebrations of family and geography that have Mary convinced that their homeland “is a pretty good place to live” by the end of the book. Though it isn’t explicitly stated, Mary and her father are likely Alaskan Natives, like the author and illustrator Rizal. While the narrative is a long one, pushing the slim book to six short chapters, the warm relationship between Mary and her dad and the exciting adventures Daddy relates should help to keep readers engaged. Rizal’s collages employ Northwest Coast Indian patterns and motifs, and their incorporation into Koch’s mixed-media paintings is the strongest element of the book; black-and-white vertical strips evoke both totem poles and birch trees looming over the autumnal landscape in one striking full-page image.

A heartfelt evocation of the importance of place and family. (Fiction. 6-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60223-232-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Univ. of Alaska

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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An effective early chapter book conveyed in a slightly overdone gag.

DEAR BEAST

Epistolary dispatches from the eternal canine/feline feud.

Simon the cat is angry. He had done a good job taking care of his boy, Andy, but now that Andy’s parents are divorced, a dog named Baxter has moved into Andy’s dad’s house. Simon believes that there isn’t enough room in Andy’s life for two furry friends, so he uses the power of the pen to get Baxter to move out. Inventively for the early-chapter-book format, the story is told in letters written back and forth; Simon’s are impeccably spelled on personalized stationery while Baxter’s spelling slowly improves through the letters he scrawls on scraps of paper. A few other animals make appearances—a puffy-lipped goldfish who for some reason punctuates her letter with “Blub…blub…” seems to be the only female character (cued through stereotypical use of eyelashes and red lipstick), and a mustachioed snail ferries the mail to and fro. White-appearing Andy is seen playing with both animals as a visual background to the text, as is his friend Noah (a dark-skinned child who perhaps should not be nicknamed “N Man”). Cat lovers will appreciate Simon’s prickliness while dog aficionados will likely enjoy Baxter’s obtuse enthusiasm, and all readers will learn about the time and patience it takes to overcome conflict and jealousy with someone you dislike.

An effective early chapter book conveyed in a slightly overdone gag. (Fiction. 6-8)

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4492-2

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Produced to celebrate the National Park Service’s upcoming centenary, a breezy invitation to prospective travelers to “get...

OUR GREAT BIG BACKYARD

A family road trip through several national parks transforms young Jane’s feelings about missing out on a summer of online fun with her friends.

“There’s absolutely nothing to see here,” Jane emails fretfully as her family drives through the scenic Smoky Mountains and canoes past alligators and manatees in the Everglades. But once her dad gets her to put the tablet away and look through a telescope at the night skies over Big Bend National Park, her attitude transforms: “OH WOW!” Soon she’s tiptoeing over the Grand Canyon’s Skywalk like an acrobat, playing pirate on a raft down the Colorado River, scouting out “Mountain lions, buffalo, and bears. Oh my!” in Yellowstone—and, discovering that she’s misplaced her electronic device, sending written postcards to her friends from Yosemite. Furthermore, once back home, what better way to debrief than a backyard cookout under the stars? Giving blonde Jane and the rest of her white family broad, pleasant features, Rogers sends them smiling and singing their way through a succession of natural wonders, with bears and bald eagles, footnotes (adult supervision required on the Skywalk, for instance), and only a few fellow, occasionally diverse tourists in the background. Endpaper maps track the long itinerary, and a (select) list of other national parks and sites in each state offers more destinations.

Produced to celebrate the National Park Service’s upcoming centenary, a breezy invitation to prospective travelers to “get out there!” (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-246835-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

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